Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How do we measure pain or suffering?

How do we measure pain or suffering?

This is not a question of emotion like "happiness" or "sadness" but rather how one weighs the impact of positive and negative experiences.
For example, (you don't have to use this particular one) lets say that a malnourished refugee has been isolated from his 3rd-World society and is on his own. How would he measure future experiences in terms of suffering and pleasure? Do you believe it to be mostly determined by:

1) A personal and relative experience: any event that occurs to an individual is measured in comparison to their most positive and negative frames of reference. In other words, a spectrum of their best and worst previous experiences determines how they scale or judge future ones. With the given example of the refugee, he would judge another day of starvation to be commonplace and would not feel any negative reactions because of prior personal experience.

2) Societally relative: The "feeling" of an experience is judged by how it compares to what society deems as the consensual standard. As with the example above, if a refugee starves one more day, he will not see it as negative if his society did not. His standards for well being are mostly dependent on prior societal norms, even when isolated.

3) Create your own.

In reality and most "normal" situations, both 1 and 2 would applicable to some degree. One might in fact influence the other.

-Are times where one can take precedence over the other?
-If suffering is relative, personally and/or societally, can you compare levels of feeling between different people? For example, is a middle class depressed teenager's level of suffering comparable to someone who has experienced starvation and physical pain?

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